Security

Why Sen. Al Franken’s ‘smart card’ schtick will likely fall flat with big banks

He used to be a comedian doing mediocre skits on Saturday Night Live. Now, Al Franken wants to protect consumer data from being stolen by Internet hackers.

Franken, who long ago hung up his comedy schtick, is now a junior Democratic senator from Minnesota and chairs the senate’s Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law.

In other words, he’s one of the point people on the Hill dedicated to safeguarding online consumers.

In light of the massive security breaches wrought on retailers Target and Neimann Marcus over the holiday shopping season — where over 100 million customers had their personal data ripped off by hackers who installed malware on some of the company’s points of purchase — Franken is urging big banks and credit card companies to adopt a unified standard of EMV chip technology.

EMV stands for Europay, Mastercard, and Visa. These “smart cards” contain chip technology, can help prevent fraud, and can also act as an all-in-one e-wallet containing multiple payment methods.

Not so fast senator!

Franken’s earnest initiative will probably fall as flat and hard as a lame comedy routine, according to Rajeev Chand, a mobile analyst and managing director of Rutberg & Company.

“It’s not a good idea. I’m wary of any government initiative to create any technology standard in the private sector,” Chand said, blowing cold air on Franken’s letter-writing campaign to American banks and card issuers.

Visa, MasterCard, and American Express already incorporate many components of the EMV technology, which differs from magnetic strip formats because it includes electronic and digital safeguards in both the card and points of purchase.

While EMV card technology is substantially more secure that magnetic strips, government interference in both the tech and private sector is a lose-lose proposition.

“This is a very complex ecosystem for the government to get involved in,” Chand pointed out.

I called the senator’s staffers nine times in order to get his take directly on what card issuers and banks can do to better protect us.

A staffer politely informed me the senator didn’t have the time for a quick chat.

That he was traveling. In Minnesota. In the dead of winter.

Instead, Sen. Franken issued this wan statement to VentureBeat:

“As chair of the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, I’m focused on making sure that consumers’ data is secure and that consumers are protected from fraud. I’m pleased that credit and debit card issuers and networks are discussing what can be done to protect cardholder data, and I look forward to working with them to improve the security of our credit and debit cards.”

Thanks, senator!

In a three-page response to Franken’s efforts, American Express’ acting general counsel, Timothy J. Heine, Esq., pointed out the already considerable safeguards inherent throughout the credit card giants user chain.

“In addition to our more recent efforts to migrate to EMV in the U.S., American Express continually has been at the forefront of deploying best-in-class fraud management capabilities that detect or prevent fraudulent activity on our network.”

In other words, nobody likes getting hacked, including big banks.

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